posted on: Thursday August 31, 2017
by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
With Bioswales, PC Fosters an Effective Storm Management System
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis writes, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.” He goes on to express that the world belongs to all who inhabit the Earth, and calls upon each and every one of us protect the environment and combat climate change.
After the tragic Hurricane Harvey occurred last week, a New York Times article reported that more than a trillion gallons of rain fell in Harris County, Texas, in four days, which is equivalent to running Niagara Falls for 15 days.
With the media circulating with similar reports, Pope Francis’ words continue to be relevant.
Providence College has been a leader in implementing effective storm management systems, earlier this month, the Clean Water Action Rhode Island recently recognized Gale Gennaro, director of the Office of Environmental Health & Safety, with its Institutional Leader of the Year award for her work in the College’s storm water management system. Specifically, she received the award for ensuring stormwater efforts are sustained, specifically as the campus grows and transforms.
With PC’s current Campus Transformation project well underway, the administration has been dedicated to preserving green space on campus and has worked hard to develop bioswales throughout the campus, which naturally drain and filter storm water before running into the Narragansett Bay.
During large rainfalls, rain runs off of roofs, paved surfaces, and lawns and picks up water pollutants such as salt, lawn fertilizers, and oils along the way. Although water does go to a treatment plant before entering the bay, during storms with especially heavy rainfalls, storm management systems are of the utmost importance.
Bioretention performs two important functions: controlling water quantity (flood prevention) and improving water quality by removing pollutants and nutrients associated with stormwater run-off. “I would love students to be more aware of the importance of managing storm water,” said Gennaro.
The bioswales are found throughout the campus, most notably behind Harkins, behind Ruane, and in front of Davis. Gennaro explained that the first bioswale was created in 2009, during the additions to the Slavin Center, and after a 2003 regulation made by the Narragansett Bay Commission which required a system be put in place on how institutions deal with storm water.
Almost 10 years later, the College has continued in its efforts to make the campus green, by creating new bioswales with the creation of new buildings and construction on campus.
“It is so great to see that PC is so committed to being green,” said Father Mark Nowel, O.P., the dean of undergraduate and graduate studies and a biologist who is a strong advocate for the bioswales on campus. “We could do the easy thing and make parking lots and new buildings, but every time we build something on green land, we have a responsibility to the environment.”
Gennaro echoed Fr. Nowel’s remarks, and also explained that the bioswales offer an abundance of educational opportunities. “There are lots of opportunities for research, be it the sciences of the plants or insects, or water quality studies,” she said. “There are so many ways for students to learn more.”
She also explained that the biology department is a large part of the project, and works closely in choosing the appropriate local plants to be included in the bioswales. “The College has done an excellent job choosing local plants for the bioswales that thrive in the water,” Fr. Nowel said.
With green infrastructure growing in popularity, Gennaro explained this is the course to take with regards to choosing the right storm management system that was right for PC. She explained one option was creating a runoff system that would filter heavy rain water into a concrete vault underground, but the implementation of bioswales seemed like the better choice.
“Not only are they educational and ecological, but they are also aesthetically pleasing,” she said.
Fr. Nowel pointed out that although new buildings on campus are nice to look at, the bioswales represent a natural beauty that comes from God. “I love being a biology teacher, because I can talk about the science behind God’s creation and the beauty of it,” he said. “I love knowing students love being in a beautiful environment.”
Fr. Nowel went onto say that we should be growing in green consciousness and look to what Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si. “Our students should be at the forefront of making efforts to think and be green, especially as our population is growing,” he said.
“As we grow and build new buildings and as our campus expands as a whole, I’d like to look at the bigger picture than just a few bioswales,” said Gennaro. She explained that our campus is unique, and we should view it as a watershed when fostering effective green infrastructure to protect the Narragansett Bay.
“Look at what happened in Houston,” said Fr. Nowel. “If half of our campus is paved and if there is 50 inches of rainfall, our campus is really getting 100 inches of rain. Therefore storm management is so important to understand and implement.”